What hap­pened to the honey­moon?

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - OPINION - Charles Krautham­mer’s email ad­dress is let­ters@ charleskrautham­mer.com. © 2017 The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group

WASH­ING­TON — The short­est honey­moon on record is of­fi­cially over. Nor­mally, newly elected pres­i­dents en­joy a wave of good­will that al­lows them to fly high at least through their first 100 days. Don­ald Trump has not yet been sworn in and the honey­moon has al­ready come and gone.

Pres­i­dents-elect usu­ally lie low dur­ing the in­ter­reg­num. Trump never lies low. He seized the ac­tual pres­i­dency from Barack Obama within weeks of his elec­tion — cut­ting os­ten­ta­tious deals with U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ers to keep jobs at home, chal­leng­ing 40-year-old China pol­icy, get­ting into a very pub­lic fight with the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. By now he has taken over the pres­i­den­tial stage. It is true that we have only one pres­i­dent at a time, and for over a month it’s been Don­ald Trump.

The re­sult is quan­tifi­able. A Quin­nip­iac poll from Nov. 17-20 — the quiet, hope-and-change phase — showed a de­cided bump in Trump’s pop­u­lar­ity and in general na­tional op­ti­mism. It didn’t last long. In the lat­est Quin­nip­iac poll, the num­bers have essen­tially re­turned to Trump’s (his­tor­i­cally dis­mal) pre-elec­tion lev­els.

For sev­eral rea­sons. First, the re­fusal of an un­bend­ing left to ac­cept the le­git­i­macy of Trump’s vic­tory. It’s not just the de­mon­stra­tors chant­ing “not my pres­i­dent.” It is lead­ing Democrats push­ing one line af­ter another to dele­git­imize the elec­tion, as in: he lost the pop­u­lar vote, it’s James Comey’s fault, the Rus­sians did it.

Se­cond, Trump’s own in­stincts and in­cli­na­tions, a thirst for at­ten­tion that leads to hy­per­ac­tiv­ity. His need to dom­i­nate ev­ery news cy­cle feeds an al­most com­pul­sive tweet habit. It has placed him just about con­tin­u­ously at the cen­ter of the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion and not al­ways to his ben­e­fit.

Trump sim­ply can’t re­sist play­ground push­back. His tweets gave Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes screed price­less pub­lic­ity. His mock­ing Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger for bad “Ap­pren­tice” rat­ings — com­pared with “the rat­ings ma­chine, DJT” — made Trump look small and Arnold (al­most) sym­pa­thetic.

Nor is this be­hav­ior likely to change af­ter the in­au­gu­ra­tion. It’s part of Trump’s char­ac­ter. Noth­ing neg­a­tive goes unan­swered be­cause, for Trump, an unan­swered slight has the air of con­ces­sion or sur­ren­der.

Fi­nally, it’s his chronic in­dis­ci­pline, his jump­ing ran­domly from one sub­ject to another with­out rhyme, rea­son or larger strat­egy. In a week packed with con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings and Rus­sian hack­ing al­le­ga­tions, what was he do­ing meet- ing with Robert Kennedy Jr., an anti-vac­cine ac­tivist push­ing the thor­oughly dis­cred­ited idea that vac­cines cause autism?

We know from way back dur­ing the Repub­li­can de­bates that Trump him­self has dab­bled in this du­bi­ous ter­ri­tory. One could, how­ever, write it off as one of many cam­paign odd­i­ties that would surely fade away. Not so, ap­par­ently.

This is not good. The idea that vac­cines cause autism orig­i­nally arose in a 1998 pa­per in the med­i­cal jour­nal The Lancet that was later found to be fraud­u­lent and had to be re­tracted. In­deed, the lead re­searcher acted so egre­giously that he was stripped of his med­i­cal li­cense.

Kennedy says that Trump asked him to chair a com­mis­sion about vac­cine safety. While deny­ing that, the tran­si­tion team does say that the com­mis­sion idea re­mains open. Ei­ther way, the dam­age is done. The anti-vac­cine fa­nat­ics seek any val­i­da­tion. This in­di­rect en­dorse­ment from Trump is im­mensely harm­ful. Vac­ci­na­tion has pre­vented more child­hood suf­fer­ing and death than any other mea­sure in his­tory. With so many is­sues press­ing, why even go there?

The vac­ci­na­tion is­sue was merely an ex­cla­ma­tion point on the scat­ter-brained ran­dom­ness of the Trump tran­si­tion. All of which con­trib­utes to the har- ried, al­most weary­ing feel­ing that we are al­ready well into the Trump pres­i­dency.

Com­pare this to eight years ago and the near eu­pho­ria — overblown but nonethe­less pal­pa­ble — at the swear­ing-in of Barack Obama. Not since JFK had any new pres­i­dent en­joyed such gen­uine good­will upon ac­ces­sion to of­fice.

And yet it turns out that such aus­pi­cious be­gin­nings are not at all pre­dic­tive. We could see it this same week. Tues­day night, there stood Obama giv­ing a farewell ad­dress that only un­der­scored the fail­ure of a pres­i­dency so bathed in op­ti­mism at its start. The fi­nal speech, amaz­ingly, could have been given, nearly unedited, in 2008. Why it even ended with “yes we can.”

Is there more pow­er­ful ev­i­dence of the empti­ness of the in­ter­ven­ing two terms? When your fi­nal state­ment is a reprise of your first, you have un­wit­tingly con­fessed to be­ing noth­ing more than a his­tor­i­cal paren­the­sis.

Charles rauthamme

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